Since it takes considerable time and diligence to acquire the skills necessary to read Sanskrit literature, it is fair to ask if the end justifies the means. That the question should arise here, after so many years of study of the language and its literature, may seem peculiar; that the question should arise at all, is not: the achievement of Sanskrit literature has been called in question by various Western and Indian critics for more than a century now. Because this essay is, to a large extent, in response to the objections of these critics, it will be necessary to examine their arguments in some detail. We might briefly summarize their arguments by saying that the critics have considered some of the better known-and most 'artificial'-works of Sanskrit literature and concluded that two factors, Brahmanism and royal patronage, distorted the literature to the extent that it failed to reflect ordinary human experience or to speak to its needs. I think that many of these criticisms are justified with regard to many-but not all-of the better-known Sanskrit classics; yet do not think these criticisms hold true for the whole range of Sanskrit literature. Here I hope to call attention to other areas of the literature where realism prevails in greater measure. These areas of Sanskrit literature reveal in its authors a social con-science which led them to criticize hypocrisy and injustice within their society while calling attention to the lot of the exploited. But, before rushing headlong into a defence of the authors of Sanskrit literature, let us first consider exactly how their achievement has been impugned.
As long ago as 1859, F. Max-Muller was denouncing what he clearly felt was a pernicious practice of the Brahmanas: their revision of ancient Sanskrit texts in order to better bolster their hierarchical supremacy. Muller wrote that the Brahmana had imposed the 'fetters of an intellectual tyranny" upon the peoples of India. In explaining the extraordinary success of a solitary reformer, sakyamuni-buddha, Muller condemned the Brahmanas as follows:
. . .their caste, as far as we know the history and traditions of India, has always been in reality the ruling caste. Their ministry was courted as the only means of winning divine favour, their doctrines were admitted as infallible, their gods were worshipped as the only true gods, and their voice was powerful enough to stamp the simple strains of the 13.shis and the absurd lucubrations of the authors of the Brahmanas, with a divine authority.. . . . In order to overthrow one of the oldest religions of the world, it was sufficient that one man should challenge the authority of the Brahmanas, the gods of the earth (Bhadevas), and preach among the scorned and degraded creatures of God the simple truth that salvation was possible without the mediation of priests, and without a belief in books to which these very priests had given the title of revelation.
Muller went on to argue that the Brahmanas, confronted by epic traditions in clear conflict with Brahmartical law, rewrote the texts in such a way as to minimize that opposition. Thus, though Brahmanic law forbids polyandry, Brahmana editors rationalized Draupadi's marriage to no less than five husbands by the insertion of a far-fetched anecdote of extreme filial obedience.3 Miiller also found that the expedient of revision was again traceable in the Ramayana of King Dasaratha's killing of a Brahmana's; son where the reader's outrage in reaction to such a heinous crime is mollified through having the boy himself explain to his murderer that he is only the son of a SCidra woman after all.4 Of course the killing of a gildra boy would scandalize no one. One may form an accurate picture of the contempt in which the Brahmanas held the Sfidras by noting along with Muller that later it would be considered a grave sin to recite Vedic hymns in a place where they might be overheard by a Sudra. This fact presented obvious difficulties in the case of Kavasa Ailusa, admitted to be both the rsi of several Vedic hymns and yet the son of a slave.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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